The dark metal of Nidavellir’s forge was cold as the plains of Jotunheim under Thor’s hands. The god of thunder’s heart was beating too fast in his chest, a product of fear and sleep deprivation no doubt. He hadn’t been able to stop its racing since he woke on the Guardian’s ship. His hands would be shaking, too, if they weren’t locked around the handles of the forge.
Thor steadied his breathing. In, out. In, out. He hadn’t been this terrified since Thanos’ ship loomed over the Statesman. He wasn’t sure he could do this. He was strong, he knew, but strong enough to take on the full force of a dying star? It was unthinkable. A part of him knew he was being reckless, but he like he told the rabbit, he had nothing left to lose.
Thor looked down for what might have been the last time at Rocket and Groot and Eitri. Rocket, to his credit, looked extremely concerned, as did Eitri. Groot was too consumed in his game to notice what was happening. Thor wanted to thank Rocket for his help, but it was too late for that now.
Thor’s gaze drifted upwards. He thought of Heimdall, his father. “All-fathers,” he said gravely, “give me strength.”
Thor took one deep breath and pulled with all his might. The forge groaned and metal shifted. Thor felt fire on his back, and knew that this wasn’t going to be easy. Still he pulled and the forge opened completely. Pure, unbridled energy surged from the star and straight into Thor’s body. His armor protected him ill, the light still cut through him like a hot knife through butter. The pain was immeasurable and all-consuming. All Thor could hear was blood rushing in his ears and the roar of the flames beside his head. He knew he was screaming, but the burning of his throat didn’t hold a candle to the fire that torched his skin. He could feel his heart growing sluggish, beating weaker and weaker in his chest until it was going to stop. Thor’s eyes grew heavy, his grip on the forge lessened. He slipped into unconsciousness and tumbled forward.
Thor fell. Light flashed behind his eyes as he drifted on the edge of living and not. He hit something, not the ground, then rolled onto the cold, unforgiving floor of the forge. He took a ragged breath. He was walking on a tight rope, teetering from one side to the other. He couldn’t find the strength to fight, to stay alive. It wasn’t like he had any reason to.
So he took another breath, and felt himself let go.
Thor opened his eyes and felt warmth. Not the unyielding burn of the star, but something softer. This warmth was a torch lit banquet table, a fireplace drying snow-drenched boots. This warmth was comforting.
There was light, white and nearly-blinding. It surrounded him on all sides. Thor didn’t think he had the strength to sit up, so he didn’t. Besides, the ground was soft. It felt like someone was cupping the back of his head.
Thor jolted with the realization that someone was cupping the back of his head. His brows furrowed and he tried to look up without actually moving his neck, but he could only see a blurry image of reddish blonde hair. “Who’s there?” he asked, his voice shockingly clear for someone who’d just been burnt alive.
Before Thor could fight back, the stranger gently pulled him into their lap, and wrapped their arm around his shoulder. Thor gaped at them—her. His mother. Frigga, alive and breathing and smiling down at him like it was a decade ago. Thor choked on a sob and suddenly found his strength again. He threw his arms around her neck and buried his face into her shoulder like he’d done countless times as a child.
“Mother,” he wept, “mother, I’m so sorry.” The words rushed out of him, the words that had haunted him ever since he’d watched her crumple to the ground. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you, I’m sorry I was too late.”
Frigga just held her little boy tight against her chest and ran her fingers over his cropped hair. “It’s alright, my boy,” she murmured, “It’s alright.”
Thor pulled back, sniffling. He studied her face, desperate to memorize everything he’d missed. She looked younger here, as he supposed he must have. “I’m dead, then? This is Valhalla?”
Frigga nodded, but her smile didn’t fade. They both knew Valhalla was a place of honor, the thing they strived for. “Yes, Thor, though you won’t be here for long.”
Thor tilted his head in confusion. He still remembered every detail of his demise, still felt the ghost of flames kissing his skin. “But, I died...the forge.”
Frigga grasped Thor’s trembling hands in hers. “Stand with me,” she said before pulling him to his feet. He wavered, but she steadied him. “You did die, yes, but the axe was forged. It will revive you.”
Thor couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment. He was with his mother again. He could see his friends, Heimdall...
“Loki?” Thor asked, his voice a bit strangled. “Is he—“
Thor whipped around. His heart was pounding again, which was strange, given the fact that he was dead. Tears blurred his vision, but he knew it was his brother. Loki stood only a few steps away from him, dressed in his familiar black and green, wearing a smirk. His neck was free of bruises, his blue eyes were clear, and he looked utterly peaceful.
Thor just sobbed at the sight of him. Loki stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his brother. Thor returned the embrace with a ferocity that he usually saved for battle. Tears streamed down both their cheeks.
“You’re embarrassing me, you oaf,” Loki said, without an ounce of annoyance in his voice. He simply rubbed Thor’s back and didn’t show any signs of wanting to let go.
“Shut...up,” Thor gasped through sobs, “Why? Why did you attack him, Loki?”
The god of mischief shrugged as a blush crept up his (blissfully unbroken) neck. “He was going to kill you, Thor. I know how Thanos thinks. He always kills half of everything, and he wasn’t going to leave just one prince alive.”
“You should’ve let him kill me,” Thor said angrily, leaning back and smacking Loki lightly on the shoulder. “I can’t do this without you.”
“Yes, you can,” Loki said, the corners of his lips bent down. “You’ll have to.”
Thor sighed and hung his head. “Where’s Heimdall?” he asked, looking back up again with urgency. His eyes swept the glimmering halls they stood in. Valhalla truly was beautiful. “I need to—“
Heimdall stepped forward with a smile, his eyes shining as golden as the palace around him. “Hello, Thor.”
As quickly as Thor had stopped crying, he began again. He stumbled forward until he was locked in Heimdall’s sturdy arms, where he’d found refuge so many times as a boy.
“My boy,” Heimdall said, his voice dripping with the same warmth that enveloped the place.
“I’m sorry I let him...”
“Shh,” Heimdall whispered, gripping Thor’s shoulders tightly and forcing him to stand up straight. “You did nothing wrong.”
Thor hiccuped. “I’m going to kill him,” he promised, wiping his nose. He turned back to Loki. “I swear it, brother.”
A deep and familiar chuckle echoed off the walls. Thor’s face broke out in a grin. Volstagg. “Perhaps you should eat before you go killing titans, my friend.”
Thor turned to face his friend. Volstagg stood (how else?) with a leg of lamb in his hand and a smile on his bearded face. Behind him, Hogun wore a relaxed expression for once and Fandral still had an air of confidence about him. He hadn’t seen them in four years.
With a mighty roar, Thor surged forward and wrapped the Warriors Three in a hug. Tears stung his eyes. “My friends! I’ve missed you so much.”
Someone patted his shoulder, but Thor didn’t know who. “We’ve missed you, too,” Hogun said.
Thor pulled back sharply, his face twisted. “Something’s wrong,” he mumbled, pressing his palm against his chest. “I...I don’t know...”
“You must return to Nidavellir,” Frigga said, the hint of a frown on her lips.
Thor immediately shook his head, even as he felt himself be pulled away further. He took a step back so he could see everyone at the same time. His eyes danced across the room, looking at Heimdall, Frigga, Loki, the Warriors Three. Everyone he’d lost, here in one place and breathing again. All he wanted to do was stay.
“I don’t want to,” he argued weakly, shaking his head. “Please, I want to stay with you.”
Loki smiled sadly. “Go defeat Thanos, brother. Join us later.”
“You have a country to rule, my friend,” Fandral said, “Settle down. Find you a woman.”
Thor laughed, his eyes wet once more. “I love you all,” he said. His voice crackled like the lightning he controlled. “I’m sorry.”
Frigga stepped forward and cupped Thor’s cheek. “I love you, my son,” she said, bringing his forehead down to rest against hers. “But you must go.”
Thor shook his head. “Where? I don’t even know where Thanos is.”
Heimdall, his sight all-seeing still, said, “Go to Wakanda on Midgard, Thor. That is where you are most needed. Protect the mind stone.”
Thor sighed and pulled his mother in for a hug. “I’ll see you again.”
Loki chuckled. “Take your time, brother. The sun will shine on us again. In time.”
Thor sobbed again and clasped a hand over his mouth. He felt the pull of life strong on his soul and opened his eyes. He drank in the sight of his family, then let himself be revived.
The ghost of Frigga’s arms around his still lingered on Thor’s skin when he woke, but the feeling was quickly replaced by the surge of energy that had revived him. He felt the solid handle of Stormbreaker under his no-long charred hand, and lightning pushed him to his feet. His vision was a mask of electric blue.
“Frick yeah!” Rocket shouted.
Thor’s armor settled over his arms, and his cape fluttered majestically behind him. Eitri had called Stormbreaker a weapon for a king, and that is what Thor had become.
“Where will you go?” Eitri asked, his voice light for the first time since Thanos had slaughtered the dwarves.
Thor heard Heimdall’s voice in his head. A determined grimace settled on his lips. Rocket scurried over and hopped up on his shoulder, and Groot took his place at his side. “We’re going to Wakanda.”